Top Tips for Planning a USA Road Trip

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I’ve been on two road trips in the USA. The first was a solo trip in 2010 when I travelled from San Francisco to Las Vegas via LA, Palm Springs and the Grand Canyon. The second was my honeymoon on the East Coast of the USA in 2012. I loved both my road trips and thought it might be useful to share my experiences of how to plan and make the most of a USA road trip.

Before you go

All holidays need some planning but a road trip needs a little more! How long are you going for? Where will you fly to and from? Where will you stay? What would you like to see while you’re there? And don’t forget you’ll need to organise things such as car hire, travel insurance and a visa, or ESTA if your country is part of the visa waiver program. (You can read more about all the entry requirements for the USA and how to apply for your ESTA below).

Flights

You will need to decide if you are going to do a one way road trip or a round trip, flying home from the same place you flew into. A round trip may be cheaper as you may be able to get a better deal on flights, and avoid extra charges on car rental but it does limit your options a bit on where you can go.

On my first USA road trip I flew into San Francisco and back out of Las Vegas, with a lay over in Houston. For our honeymoon we flew into Boston and out of Washington DC. If you can be flexible with dates and destinations then you may be able to get better deals on flights – I use Skyscanner to help me find the best flights and prices.

Where to stay

For both my road trips I only booked accommodation for a few nights at the beginning and end of the trip, and a day or two in the middle. This gave my trips a bit of structure knowing I had to be in a certain place on a particular date, but also allowed for a lot of freedom for the days in between.

If you are travelling alone or with other adults then this is definitely a great way to road trip. I think if I was to do another trip with the children I would probably book accommodation for every night of the trip just to be sure we always had somewhere to stay.

A hire car is essential for a road trip
Our hire car outside one of the many motels we stayed in

I chose to drive and then stay in hotels / motels on both my trips but there are lots of other alternatives like Air BnB, hiring an RV and camping, or even home exchange programs.

What to see

Although I didn’t plan every night of my road trips I did have some ideas of places I wanted to visit along the way. Some were famous tourist attractions like The Grand Canyon or the Capitol Building in Washington. Others were more personal interests – in fact our honeymoon was almost entirely planned around visiting locations that Adam Richman had been to on the TV show Man v. Food! Oh, and we went to Vermont just so I could go to the Ben & Jerry’s factory!

Visiting the Ben & Jerry's factory in Vermont
Visiting the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Vermont

On both trips I also used a great book called Road Trip USA (affiliate link). This book provides details of six different routes for American road trips. I didn’t follow any of them completely but took bits from a few different ones. The great thing about this book is it has details of so many things off the beaten track that you would probably never come across on your own.

Lucy the Elephant, Margate City New Jersey
Lucy the Elephant, Margate City, New Jersey

Without this book we would never have found Lucy the Elephant in New Jersey or the wonderful Red Caboose Motel in Pennsylvania where we got to spend the night in a converted railroad car!

Find unique places to stay on a USA road trip - Red Caboose Motel, Lancaster County
Red Caboose Motel, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Whether you plan every day of your trip or want to be a bit more adventurous and see where the road takes you, it’s worth having a rough itinerary planned before you go.

Don’t forget the paperwork

In our modern world it’s easy to think that everything will be accessible from your phone while you’re away. But WiFi might be unreliable, you might not want to pay a fortune for data, or you maybe just have a flat battery at the wrong time.

It’s definitely worth printing out boarding passes, booking confirmations, and travel insurance documents before you go. You should also print details of your ESTA and make sure you take photocopies of your passports too.

Passports

If you are a British citizen, you just need a passport that is valid for the duration of your stay in the USA. You can find full details of all entry requirements for British citizens here. If you have a passport from another country there may be different requirements and you should check these before booking any travel.

Visa or ESTA?

If you are a British Citizen you do not need a visa to enter the USA but you do need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) visa waiver. You must complete an ESTA application for everyone, including children and babies. You can apply for the ESTA travel authorization here.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is vital for any holiday. I must admit though I have been guilty of only buying my travel insurance just before I leave for my holiday. This is great if you need it while you’re away but travel insurance will also cover you if you need to cancel or change your holiday. So always buy your insurance as soon as you book your holiday!

Enjoy the Adventure

Once you’ve planned and booked everything and you’re ready to go my only other piece of advice is enjoy the adventure! See where the road takes you, if you like somewhere stay a while, and if you don’t, well then the next stop is only a few miles away!

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